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Archive for March, 2010

Getting kitted out

Here was the plan. First I’d go through all of the stuff I might have lying around; then I would ask members of the family what they might have and be willing to part with; then I’d beg on ‘freecycle’ – request would be a more neutral and accurate term I suppose; and finally, as a last resort I would buy what I needed.

Most of my old camping gear is either moled away in the heaps of stuff in the storage unit I pay an exorbitant amount for each month, or, it is buried in the landfill where they hauled off the excess left over from the gutting of the house. Luckily there was an air mattress and a sleeping bag riding atop the clutter in the storage unit; both of them are in fine shape.

My brother ferreted out some old pots and pans, a small cluster of plates and other eating utensils, and an old stainless steel combination knife and hatchet rig from my Boy Scout days; the latter was still in its leather sheath. (see photo) It’s more a nostalgia piece than a really useful item, but I took it anyway. What will be practical is an old WWII folding shovel that I had forgotten we had. Two plastic tarps with welcoming grommets were also found. And there was an early-model propane lantern complete with a couple of new mantles. It’s a kind of last resort item, but better than nothing.

However useful this collection is, I am still without a tent, a stove, a camp chair, and a folding table. The table isn’t strictly necessary, but it would be a good item to have. Time to ask the universe and see if it might be given me. So I joined the freecycle crowd in Newton, Cambridge, and Boston. Within a day or so I got a stove. It’s an older model Coleman that requires ‘white gas’ or Coleman’s own fuel to operate, but it’s nearly brand new condition. So far there’s no sign of a tent or the other ‘wanted’ items.

That leaves buying as a last resort. On Saturday I went to Target on a reconnaissance mission. Checking out the tents I discovered a perfectly acceptable one for about $35. That was a pleasant surprise. A slightly more commodious one could be had for about $50. I didn’t really look at the chairs or a folding table. I realized I could also use a good ice chest. There are newer models of camping lanterns that operate off battery power rather than propane. They’re certainly appealing; no danger of fire or explosions and all that. Plus no annoying and cumbersome canisters. None of the lighting options are particularly ‘green’, but WTF. I wasn’t attempting for a minute to make this trek an example of green consciousness. A final note on this: Their on-line inventory assured me that the store carried Coleman fuel. They didn’t of course. Probably not a favorite seller. Nor a safe thing to keep on the shelves in store full of unattended curious children.

Among the other items I have to buy, and there’s no way around this: an inverter that can power and charge the laptop from the car battery. Cost: more than $70 by the time all the taxes are rolled in.

What about a first aid kit. I have a feeling I’ll need one at some point. Maybe I can assemble one from scratch. Too bad I can’t afford a defibrillator. That might actually be useful.

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It is John Michael Greer’s contention, and he is the ‘Archdruid’ after all, that the USA is (d)evolving into a third world country. In his view, this may not be an entirely unwelcome turn of events, at least as far as the planet itself, and even our own culture is concerned. With that thesis in mind, perhaps I should entitle my proposed enterprise, “Looking for, and (probably) finding, a new third world: a trek around the USA”.

And what better way to do that? As one of the characters in Animal House said: “Road trip!” Besides, any way I frame it, it’s time to leave the cold cocoon of New England. Despite my advanced years, I have always felt as though I never really emerged from my pupa stage in this chilly clime. I’ll just have to see if it’s too late in my life to actually grow a set of colored wings.

As I start out on this rambling explanation for my trek and what comes up about it , I am going to throw the whole sack of word-cats on the floor and see who crawls out. Later on I can pick and choose which ones to keep, which ones to find a new home for, and which ones to put back in sack and toss in the lake. I know some of the cute ones will have to go.

I will use this blog (and others) and a website (still in embryonic development) as a testing laboratory. While there will some be preconditions as well as editing and winnowing as I make these entries, I will be more inclusive than exclusive, at least in the beginning. Maybe later on it will become apparent that this kind of all-in approach won’t work and things will get too fat and too muddled.

A friend of mine suggested that I provide some biographical background color, and he probably has a good point. BUT one of the things that has occurred to me is that I shouldn’t reveal too much about myself in advance. Too much information might prejudice a reader’s perception; also a potential reader might use that information as a reason to ignore me altogether. Of course, the real truth is that there may be no one who actually reads this blog except me. Best to barge ahead without too much over-thinking. Over-thinking usually ends up creating things like five-legged elephants, the Edsel, or the Microsoft OS. Even the most egregious and patently awful writing, including my own, can usually be tightened up and made more savory by good editing.

I guess I should at least offer my name; it’s David. Anyway. Here are the some things you don’t need to know about me: my age, my weight, my height, my hair color, my eye color, my favorite color, my shoe size, my waist size, my hat size, my cholesterol levels, my dental history, my pain threshold, where I went to school, my political party affiliations, how much $$ I have, my credit scores, my vocal range, my eyesight, my allergies, and the size and shape of any ‘distinguishing’ marks on my body. BTW: as of the moment I have no tattoos.

Here are some things to know about me that might be useful, or at least possibly illuminating: my sun sign, my favorite philosopher/thinker, my favorite music, the last book I’ve read, the most important book I’ve read, the least important book I’ve ever read, my mother’s maiden name, what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, my favorite artist, my favorite foods, the best meal I ever ate, my favorite plant (s), my favorite comedian, the authors I trust the most, my favorite job or work, my favorite work(s) of art, why making a piece of ceramics is just about the most satisfying endeavor in the world (not counting, of course, making joyful love and cooking a perfect rib roast), my favorite recipe, etc. I will try to fold some of this information into the text, whether it is important or not.

Accompanying me (perhaps) on my road trip will be my dog, Chloe. She has all the best traits in a traveling companion. She makes friends easily. She’s always curious, invariably tolerant, forever forgiving, especially about people’s weird beliefs and sometimes odd behaviors, and she usually talks only when she has something of importance to impart. Best of all, she isn’t terribly fussy about what she eats. Also on the plus side, she always lets me know when something that shouldn’t be askew actually is. Like all dogs she endures her natural ADD with good grace. Her only real failing is that she sheds, a lot. Most of my family is urging me to leave her in New England with her ex-in-laws. I know what the practical and prudent thing to do is and as the time approaches to leave I am leaning more and more that way, but my heart feels as though it’s being drained. I am not sure I will have as fair and grand a time without her.

I’m told that I am given to bouts of extreme skepticism, which some people mistakenly assume is negativity. Usually it isn’t, though, frankly, occasionally it is. I do suffer from CDA, chronic Disappointment Syndrome. One symptom is the feeling of great let-down generated by the too-often, actually usual, failure of decency and justice in economics US-style. Another symptom is a general distaste for what has become our boorish and uncharitable national behavior in general. But I guess it is the way of things these days. Like Chloe, I am curious, tolerant, and forgiving (up to a point anyway), especially when it comes to personal foibles in major matters such as religion, politics, and sex. But, unlike Chloe, I don’t always handle my ADD with grace. “And so it goes.”

So, the two of us, a grunting old curmudgeon, and a gentle-spirited dog, may, nay, WILL soon be hitting the road for a spell. We’re waiting for Spring to roll over us and then we’ll be off. We are going in search of the genuine greener places in the US.

What I’m not I’m not going to be doing is scouring the landscape for those elusive, and, I believe, mostly imaginary, ‘green shoots’. I know that we are assured they are sprouting up everywhere in the toxic brownfields of our economic system, but IF they do exist, and there probably are some sickly, slender stalks pushing through the hardpan somewhere, they are few and very far between. And, even though they may have a green cast, “they owe their soul to the company store.” Sustainable and regenerative they aren’t. No matter how loudly we wish for it, deus ex techno-machina isn’t going to save our gonads this time.

The noisy, bellicose red-white-blue bluster so gleefully hyped by the media is mostly the voice of suffering and disillusionment. And there is SO much to be disillusioned about. For at least two decades now, corporations with black hearts and sticky fingers have run amok, and they are trying to wire the whole country to a failing life-support system. Out there somewhere are other answers; answers that aren’t linked to corporate or government control and manipulation. There are rich, fruitful, wise, and successful ‘alternative’ cultures and ways of living. Some of them are hidden in plain sight, others lurk on the other side of the hills, hidden in the weeds of a used, abused, second-hand America.

I will be looking for signs of the true green hearts of America. I will be visiting with people who have been, and are, doing the work that needs to be done, for themselves, their families, their communities, their congregations, their ‘tribes’, and the planet they inhabit. I will be looking for those places where ‘green living’ is an on-going reality, not just a collection of snappy eco-gadgets and high-tech-retrofits. I will be looking for the already established and flourishing green dreams. I will be looking for projects and places that have been and are now being cultivated, nourished, and cared for by dedicated individuals and groups working from the ground up. I will be looking to talk with the people who envisioned and nurtured them, and who do so still. I will be trying to ‘grok’ what they’re all about, and understand the unique, far-sighted work they have created. I want to know what motivated them to begin their work, what sustained them during the making of it, and what sustains them now. What sort of strength does it take not only to start but to persevere through the inevitable times when things aren’t going well? What kind of grit and fortitude does it take to maintain and live by values and ideals in a culture that more often than not is hostile to your outlook and way of life? What drives an individual or a group to make the choices that they make? What do they see as their purpose for being? How does this purpose shape the life they lead? Maybe these are ultimately ‘religious’ questions; they are certainly are as spiritual in nature as they are economic. I will try to understand and then articulate their world-views and spiritual roots. My eyes are those of an aging, but eager would-be believer, whose vision and judgment is often affected by the lenses I wear, the lenses of a dedicated dreamer-skeptic and cynic.

I will be talking with old advocates of localization not just new ones, seasoned transitioners as well as those recently injected with the bug of Transition, accomplished and mature organic gardeners and farmers as well as new ‘start-up’ farmers, both young and old. I hope to have the opportunity to talk with some of the superstars, like Will Allen and Paul Stamets, and Eliot Coleman, as well as a whole lot of people no one’s ever heard of, maybe not even folks in their own watershed, foodshed, neighborhood, or home town.

In trying to talk about what I see and hear, I will try to use a simple but rich, nuanced and multi-colored vocabulary. I will always try not to burden my language with the weight of industrial bureaucratic, corporate-speak and the hedge-your-bets talk used so often by politicians and ‘scientists’ who avoid taking stands. I won’t pepper my sentences with the snarky gee-whizziness of Mad Av jive talk, or let my words float off with the airy ineffable lightness of new-age enviro-babble. I can’t promise I will always succeed. I’m just going to go for the juice and try to describe the taste and texture. (Perhaps this is a good place to insert a quick note on what may be an unfamiliar word to many: ‘grok’. This is a term coined by Robert Heinlein in ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ It was used by the Martian visitor to earth, named Valentine Michael Smith, to denote complete and full understanding of something. It is a useful term and should be employed when the appropriate conditions are met.)

I expect to be awed, stupefied, mystified, depressed, befuddled, overwhelmed, disappointed, enraged and elated. I expect to come away both pessimistic and optimistic. I passionately hope for more of the latter. I am looking for some tonic against the growing despair I so often feel as the world seems to be eroding into anger and dysfunction around me. On this trek I intend to laugh a lot, have some brain bending and rollicking conversations, eat as many fabulous meals as possible, and down some glasses of good (and bad) wine. I know I will meet extraordinary ordinary people and be shown some wonders I could not have expected in my wildest imagination. I intend to share as much as I can of these experiences with as many people as want to listen and watch and read.

All in all, I hope it is a glorious and life-affirming adventure. While Marco Polo went looking for a new passage to the ‘East’, I think I’m probably looking for some old passages to the ‘West’. And if I fail, maybe at least the flameout will be illuminating for an instant or two. Jung encourages us to drive into our dreams to discover our souls and our Selves. I’ve got an old Toyota van that’s still running, sort of, and so am I, sort of. I guess it’s time to get going.

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1- Charles Bowden– from Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing’:

How can a person live a moral life in a culture of death? And by death I do not mean something symbolic or metaphoric. I mean the actual death of other peoples and other living things. My life has been spent inside a culture of constant war and vast slaughter of the beasts of the field and the grasses and forests of the land and of the fish in the sea and of the blue sky I was born under at the tail end of one of those wars. I am of that culture and yet I am against that culture. I am of my time and yet out of my time. I drive fast down freeways, but I have no belief that these roads lead to a future. Nor do I fear the future. But I do fear for the culture and the human beings within it and the beasts and plants without it that suffer in silence.

2- Laurence Sterne– FromA Sentimental Journey’:

According to Sterne these constitute the ‘Reasons’ for traveling:
“Infirmity of body
Imbecility of mind, or
Inevitable necessity”

and then the travellers themselves:

“The whole circle of travelers may be reduced to the following heads:
Idle Travellers, Inquisitive Travellers, Lying Travellers, Proud Travellers, Vain Travellers, Splenetic Travellers.
Then follow The Travellers of Necessity, The delinquent and felonious Traveller, The unfortunate and innocent Traveller, The simple Traveller.
And last of all (if you please) The Sentimental Traveller (meaning thereby myself), who have travell’d, and of which I am now sitting down to give an account, as much out of Necessity, and in the besoin de Voyager, as any one in the class.”

3- David Holgrem‘Principles of Permaculture’:
Principle #1: “Observe and Interact.”

4- Archie Dunn‘Conversations at a Filling Station’

“Just shut the fuck up and deal!”

This will be, by virtue of its context in time and space and the limitations of its author’s intellect and knowledge, a limited and parochial tour. After all, it focuses primarily on what is going in parts of the USofA. How much more parochial can you get? We are all statistics to the Vast Machine.

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It started at a kitchen table in Providence (an auspicious place) as I had, after a meal of home-made salmon ceviche and two or three glasses of wine the impulse to write:

AN Old Curmudgeon’s Book of Days and cooking guide: a sometimes sentimental (but not too often) and (mostly) true account of travels in used, second-hand and hand-made America. This will be the story of how one old Cynic looks for and finds (he hopes) his ‘lost’ tribe of compadres and commamas hidden among the small cities, small towns, intentional and unintentional communities, backyards, gardens, and even occasional woodlots across the nation. Remember the old saw about the boy finding his bedroom full of horseshit on his birthday?

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